O Anjo Pornográfico

The year 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most beloved writers from Brazilian history, Nelson Rodrigues. He was born in Recife, the capital of the northeast state of Pernambuco on August 23, 1912 and died on December 21, 1980. He became Brazil’s most acclaimed and widely staged playwright after his death.

I was first introduced to his work some 8 years ago by taking theatre workshop “The Universe of Nelson Rodrigues” that culminated with the staging of his play The Deceased Woman (A Falecida). I immediately felt in love with his work and the more I discovered it, not only his plays but also his novels and TV shows, my admiration for him kept growing; and furthermore, it has greatly influenced my work as an artist. It was preciesly, The Deceased Woman, the play I chose for NewTeatro's inaugural presentation in 2007 in Toronto.

In 1916, his father, a lifelong journalist, ran into trouble for criticizing some very powerful local politicians, so he decided to move his entire family to Rio de Janeiro. During this period, Nelson started to get in contact with a universe of relationships and passion which will become the core theme of his acclaimed “Life as it is”. An example of this universe, is one of his very early memories from 1917 with an incident involving a young guy who drank poison after having a fight with his girlfriend and then the image of the girlfriend and the deceased’ mother fighting over the corpse in the funeral home.

By the age of 14, Nelson started writing all local police related news in the newly founded newspaper by his father in 1925. At 15 he dropped out of school and by his 16th birthday he had his own column. In 1929 the fortune and wellbeing of his family dramatically changed when a society lady shot to death one of his brothers inside the newspaper’s offices because of the coverage on her divorce. Devastated by this incident, their father died few months later of a stroke, and shortly after, the newspaper was closed by the military supporting the revolution of 1930. Nelson and his brothers were forced to seek employment with rival newspapers for low wages; and to make things worse, in 1934 Nelson was diagnose with tuberculosis, a disease that will haunted him on and off for the following 10 years of his life.

After his death, all the persistent objections and hard judgments that led many to dismiss his plays as morbid, sexually exploitative, melodramatic or sensationalists; almost immediately disappeared. Before Nelson, no one had ever been able to portray the Brazilian culture, idiosyncrasies and characters with such a profound and radical depth, as only he was able to achieve. Precisely, part of the fascination for his work resides on the raw description on the individuals and situations that surrounded them. No one knew, better than him, how to capture the spontaneous street language and everyday life; he made his dialogues go from raw and unadorned to elaborately poetic and epical, completely detached from everyday life.

In his first play, Woman without Sin (A Mulher Sem Pecado), his control over the secrets of stagecraft was not yet evident but he managed to succeed by making individual scenes believable by giving them a solid psychological foundation with a very innovative approach. During that period, the plays were divided in three acts, and this play was not an exception. However, to ensure the uninterrupted continuity of the tension, the opening line in the second and third act were the same ending line from the previous act.

Nonetheless, his first breakthrough came on December 1943 in Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theater with the opening of The Wedding Dress (Vestido De Noiva). This presentation symbolized a milestone for the Brazilian theatre, not only for the playwriting, but also for the mise en scène and set design. Reviewers immediately made it as a landmark event, comparing it to the contributions to the Brazilian arts made by other famous writers such as Carlos Drummond and even architectures such as Oscar Niemeyer. Its plot was conceived on three planes: Reality, memory and hallucination, as well as the projection on the stage of the protagonist’ subconscious. What is remarkable here are Alaide (protagonist) interior adventures from plane to plane while she is in coma after suffering a car accident. All the intricate psychological elements reconstitute into the myth of marriage, siblings rivalry, Oedipus complex, sins and irony of fate. In this play, Nelson was able to transform all these human experiences into a poetic beauty.

In total, he wrote 17 theatrical plays, which are frequently divided in three groups: Psychological, mythical and Carioca tragedies. He called his theater "the theater of the unpleasant" and had the conviction that it was his duty to hold a mirror up to society's hypocrisies and to expose the darkness in the audience's heart. "We must fill the stage with murderers, adulterers, madmen; in short, we must fire a salvo of monsters at the audience," he said. "They are our monsters, which we will temporarily free ourselves from only to face another day". Conservatives labeled him as a "pervert" for his nearly obsessive exploration of sexual taboos such as adultery, homosexuality and incest, which he greatly explored in his plays and other literary works.

He had a very unique view in regards to theatre and what he believed as a playwright. In an interview he held the same year of his death, he alleged that the theater was yet to be born. “It's a genre a few hundred years late and stifled by a thousand prejudices that inevitably castrate the creative impetus of the playwright.” During the same interview, when asked what to expect from the theatre audience he responded by saying: “First of all, the audience should be eliminated. I firmly believe that the interpreters themselves and even all elements of the representation, director, designer and actors; all these people do nothing more than obstructing the work of the playwright and disfigure the authentic reality.”

His legacy goes beyond the 17 theatrical plays he wrote. It also includes 10 novels and about 2000 short stories grouped under the title of Life As It Is (A vida como ela é), originally published by the new paper Última Hora. Forty of these short stories, as of today, have been produced and broadcast nationally in Brazil by TV Globo as weekly shows. Moreover, 20 of these stories were produced in Portugal for national television; and in France, Canal Plus presented in French under the name of L’ amour à la brésilienne the 40 stories produced by TV Globo. In addition, he wrote three soap operas, and 20 motions pictures have been produced based on his work, some of them enjoying international recognition.

It’s my intention with this inaugural NewTeatro’s blog entry to contribute with the promotion of Nelson Rodrigues work outside Brazil; to introduce him to new audiences, theatre lovers and people in general who are hungry to discover new literature and authors. In my humble opinion, there is much more to discover about this artistic genius that hasn’t reach out enough into the world.